EU’s Verheugen: Turkey Should Work on Cyprus Issue

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–Turkey should help solve the division of Cyprus after its November 3 election if it wants closer relations with the European Union–the European Commission said on Tuesday.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told the European Parliament he hoped the Turkish general election–after months of political turmoil–would produce a government that is "stable–democratic–reformist and pro-European in its agenda."

That administration should make possible a deal between the Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus and the Greek south–so that a united island could join the EU in 2004–Verheugen told parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

"I would welcome it if following Turkish elections there was clear progress on the issue of Cyprus," he said. "Turkey holds the key to the solution of the problem."

Cyprus is one of 10 mostly east European candidates due to conclude accession talks by the end of the year. Brussels is negotiating with the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government. The Turkish Cypriots are boycotting the talks.

The EU is prepared to admit a divided island if necessary–but it is keen for a political settlement before Cyprus joins. Turkey has threatened it might otherwise annex northern Cyprus.

Verheugen did not elaborate on how the EU would reward Turkey for cooperating on Cyprus–and he made clear that Ankara was unlikely anyway to achieve its goal of receiving a date in December for beginning its own EU membership talks.

"We will be able to react correctly in political terms if there is some kind of agreement (on Cyprus)… I hope Turkey is aware that its attitude on this issue will influence the overall political atmosphere between the EU and the country,’ he said.

Verheugen reiterated that entry talks with Turkey could begin only once it met the EU’s so-called Copenhagen criteria on democracy and human rights–standards it had not yet reached despite passing a reform package in August.

"Turkey is moving towards our standards of democracy–human rights and the rule of law. But I do not know how long it will take Turkey to reach the end of this road," he said.

Having enacted legislation to abolish the death penalty–expand freedom of speech and boost language rights for Kurds–Turkey had to show progress in implementing the reforms.

Verheugen mapped out the conditions for a deal which he hoped Cyprus’ Turkish and Greek leaders would reach despite persistent deadlock in UN-sponsored talks.

We need a Cyprus that speaks with one voice in the EU. We need a centralized body there capable of taking action. A virtual body is not sufficient," he said.

Turkey invaded northern Cyprus in 1974 after a short-lived Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the junta then in Athens. The self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus–backed by Ankara–is demanding international recognition of its sovereignty before agreeing to a confederation with the south.


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